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Red Sox 10, Royals 3

Buchholz is coldly efficient

He makes Royals look sickly in win

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 25, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Before last night’s game, Clay Buchholz sat in the clubhouse, his guitar on his lap. With no audience, Buchholz sat strumming, the clubhouse bustle going on around him, looking slightly mussed and still a little under the weather.

He had said the day before that he couldn’t anticipate how well he would be able to pitch in the series finale against the Royals. He had been miserably sick, the victim of a nasty head cold.

“I’ll pitch,’’ he had said. “It’s how I pitch is the question.’’

There was no need to worry.

“A little bit,’’ Buchholz said, surprised at his effectiveness despite the cold. “I was expecting to have to battle through, especially after the first inning. Threw some good pitches that got hit, and left some pitches up, and I was able to bounce back the next inning, and go on a pretty good roll.’’

That good roll got the Sox a win. As they head to New York playing far better than they were the last time they graced the Yankee Stadium turf, the Red Sox saved a split at Kauffman Stadium, taking last night’s game by a 10-3 score in front of 20,807.

With a loss earlier in the day by the fading Rangers, the Sox cut two off their magic number, shrinking it to just three heading into the weekend’s series against the Yankees.

That means they could clinch a spot in the postseason as early as tomorrow in New York. Otherwise, they have 10 games remaining against the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Indians in which to formally dispatch the Rangers to their usual position - which is done with their season in October.

But first, the Sox needed to take care of the Royals, which they did fairly easily, using the magic of Buchholz’s right arm and the utter improbability of one statistic.

With another home run from David Ortiz (No. 26), the Sox improved to 23-2 when he takes one out of the park. But the game was hardly about the Sox’ designated hitter, who added a two-run double in a four-run ninth. It was about the continued development of a pitcher living up to all the hype and expectations that began in the minors, continued with his no-hitter, and are coming to life in the second half of a season that began for him in Triple A.

“Even when I didn’t feel good in Triple A, I still thought I had a chance to go out there and win a game,’’ Buchholz said. “That’s what it’s coming to now. It’s a different ballgame up here, but obviously if you can go out and throw some pitches for strikes and get some outs in some big situations, all it’s going to do is help you, so I feel like I’m doing a better job of that.

“I feel good right now. I feel like the team, as a whole, is doing well and doing the little things they need to do to win a ballgame. That’s all it does, is it builds confidence when you’ve got everybody running at the same time.’’

Buchholz walked off the mound with a 6-0 lead and with two outs in the seventh inning, having given up consecutive singles, and the crowd behind the visitors’ dugout gave him a standing ovation. It was a surprising amount of noise for a visiting player, even one whose fiancee hails from Kansas City.

“I know there’s a lot of Red Sox fans here, but very rarely do you go into a visiting team’s place and have a crowd stand up and clap for you,’’ Buchholz said.

Buchholz allowed just five hits in his 6 2/3 innings, including one infield hit that didn’t go past Alex Gonzalez behind second base. He walked no one, hit one batter, and simply dominated the Royals between the fourth batter of the game and the second batter of the seventh, in which time he had eight strikeouts and Kansas City has one hit.

Coming in on the best stretch of his career - unbeaten in seven starts with a 5-0 record and 2.80 ERA - Buchholz continued that success, lowering his overall ERA to 3.21, which is lower even than Jon Lester’s 3.33. After a brief lapse in the first inning (one-out singles to Mitch Maier and Billy Butler to put men on first and third), Buchholz was nearly unhittable.

“Lot of strikes,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “No walks. Lot of good strikeouts, lot of good strikes. Fastball, changeup, slider. I didn’t think he had his best curveball tonight, but he pounded the zone with those pitches. Gives him a lot of different looks where guys can’t really dig in. The biggest thing I think, he’s pitching with confidence with his fastball.’’

He struck out Mike Jacobs looking, then got Alberto Callaspo to ground out.

Buchholz struck out six of the eight batters following the second single, getting 13 consecutive hitters out, with just a single fly ball. His stuff looked awesome, the Royals looking unprepared and unfocused as they flailed at Buchholz’s offerings.

“Strike one,’’ Mike Lowell said. “Threw a lot of strikes. Mixing up his pitches. When he’s throwing strikes with all of his pitches, it’s tough because he has a good ability to keep hitters off-balance. He doesn’t really fit a pattern . . . He really can mix it up, and he’s got good stuff too.’’

The Royals weren’t just unfocused at the plate. They contributed five errors to the Red Sox’ cause, helping them to six unearned runs. Not that the Sox really needed the help against starter Anthony Lerew, who came into the game without name recognition and didn’t do much to get himself noticed.

Once Buchholz (7-3) left, the bullpen made things scarier than they should have been, as Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito allowed three runs in the eighth.

But even with the bullpen blip, the game belonged to Buchholz, who pitched the Sox closer to the postseason, and continued to back up his team’s confidence in his ability - and up his own confidence.

“I thought when he was getting his feet wet, it was stuff,’’ Francona said. “Now he’s backing it up. I think that’s what we talked about when he first came back up - what’s almost more important is every five days having a chance to go out and be consistent. I mean, he’s been consistently really good.’’

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